The Paracelsian medicine and theosophy of Abraham von Franckenberg and Robert Fludd
by Urszula Szulakowska
Paper presented at conference, Universal Reformation: Intellectual Networks in Central and Western Europe, 1560-1670, St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford, 21-23 September, 2010 (Cultures of Knowledge: An Intellectual Geography of the Seventeenth-Century Republic of Letters), http://universalreformation.history.ox.ac.uk//?page_id=30)
The paper is presented without footnotes which may be cross-referenced with
Urszula Szulakowska, The Sacrificial Body and the Day of Doom. Alchemy and Apocalyptic Discourse in the Protestant Reformation, Brill: Leiden (2009)
The focus of the present argument will concern the conceptual inter-relation between the Silesian nobleman Abraham von Franckenberg (1593-1652), the chief disciple and biographer of Jacob Boehme, and the English medical practitioner and alchemist Robert Fludd (1574-1637). Fludd seems to have been influenced by Boehme and, in turn, to have influenced the ideas of Franckenberg, an influence which has not been examined by scholars to date. Franckenberg has been largely neglected by scholarship, with only one or two recent studies in German and nothing at all in English.
Franckenberg had inherited the title of lord of Ludwigsdorff in Lower Silesia where his family is first recorded in 1297 as having been given the village of Rosen near Byczyny. They were a noble family originating in Frankenberg near Chemnitz in Pleissenland and on moving to Silesia they served the princes of Glogow. In succeeding generations the original family divided into many different cadet branches who accumulated considerable amounts of land between them, by the late fourteenth century making them one of the most important families in Lower Silesia. They are recorded as contributing to the patronage of the arts and architecture in the following two centuries.
Franckenberg had been educated in the gymnasium in Brieg in Lower Silesia until 1611 where he was an exceptional student. Before he joined the university, he left his inheritance to his brother as a result of a spiritual conversion resulting from his private reading of the scriptures. According to his earliest biographer Gottfried Arnold the pietist, in 1617 Franckenberg experienced the “inner faith, the still sabbath,” claiming to have found Christ himself in place of dogma: “das Adam in uns streben und Christus in uns leben muss.” According to his own letters, Franckenberg had been studying the German mystics Johannes Tauler and Thomas à Kempis, as well as the Spirituals, Schwenckfeld and Weigel, then finally in 1612, he read Boehme’s Aurora. During the plague in Silesia in 1634, he worked to cure the sick using Paracelsian medicine. In 1645, he travelled to Danzig in order to join his friend the natural philosopher, Johann Hevelius, from whom he learned astronomy and mathematics. He also corresponded with the Jesuit historian Athanasius Kircher in Rome, as well as with the lord of Schweidnitz and Claudio Salmasio. Initially he wrote under the pseudonym “Amadeus von Friedleben,” his writings appearing in public only after his death in Amsterdam. His most distinguished and original work is the Raphael oder Artzt Engel, written in 1639 and published in Amsterdam in 1676.
A letter written by Franckenberg on 21 October, 1641 in the Oakley edition contains a discussion of the imminent Second Coming of Christ and the signs associated with it. Paracelsian alchemy was related integrally to this apocalyptic context and Franckenberg like Boehme was a true follower of the Paracelsus and his school of theosophy and medical alchemy. However, to these influences Franckenberg added many elements of his own including an inventive cryptography, specifically in his Raphael oder Artzt Engel (1639) where marginal diagrams, notes and almost casual graffiti amplify the text. Franckenberg was a cabbalist, but unlike Robert Fludd he was not heavily engaged with either the original Judaic source or its Christianised version devised by Johannes Reuchlin. Rather he modelled his cryptography on that of Cornelius Agrippa in the Occult Philosophy and on that of John Dee in the Monas Hieroglyphica (1564).
Table from John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica
Like them Franckenberg enjoys playing visual and audial puns on the appearance of Latin or German words and their phonetic consonances and dissonances. In actuality, however, Dee’s emblematic magic was quite different in its visual appearance from Franckenberg’s system, but the basic idea was similar, namely, taking a sign and dismantling its component parts, as well as playing with the linguistic structures. Common to both alchemists was the idea that in the manipulation of the sign, the adept was working a magical ritual that would change the physical world.
For example, in Franckenberg’s analysis of the word “ARTZNEI” (“alchemical medicine”) he produces assonances such as “HART,” “HERTZ,” including the name of the Roman goddess, “CERES” which is an allusion to wheat and hence to the communion bread of the mass. Franckenberg does not allude to any alchemists or magicians, only to biblical sources, which suggests that there is a particularly sacred aspect to the Raphael. In this text, Franckenberg pursuses one central theme, that of the healing tincture or elixir produced alchemically which is a divine substance that parallels, or even is the same as, Christ present within the communion wine and bread.
Franckenberg seems to have been influenced in this by the alchemist Heinrich Khunrath belonging to the previous generation who also wrote of the alchemical elixir in Christological terms, equating the Paracelsian concept of the quintessence and of the magnesia with the body of Christ. As in Khunrath’s cabblistic alchemy Franckenberg’s spiritual and medical alchemy is dependent upon the cosmic and microcosmic operations of the “GEISTE GOTTES,” the Spirit of God. Franckenberg refers to esoteric waters (evil and good), white and red tinctures (“roht / und weise universal TinctUR des LAMMES”), sacred oils and balsams, such as a Balsam of Life, taken from the Tree of Life (the cross of Christ), both of these springing from the Word of God. He refers to the “MUM IAH,” whose essence is “IAH,” the Judaic name of God Christianised as the name of Christ’s healing Spirit. Franckenberg’s “MUMIAH” (mummy) originates in Paracelsian medical alchemy and it was a not uncommon, if extremely expensive, material derived from human corpses (it was fed to Charles II of England on his deathbed). Robert Fludd mentions the same substance. In Franckenberg’s text, there is a picture of a skull in the nearby illustration.
Franckenberg’s concept of the red and white elixir is derived from Paracelsus’ account of the “azoth” or quintessence, or alkahest. In his Liber Azoth he referred to it as an aerial nitre, or saltpetre, transmitted by the rain to the earth from the spirit of the sun. His followers, Severinus, de Vigenere, Sendivogius, Quercetanus and Fludd developed the full idea of the aerial saltpetre. Paracelsus had examined the alchemical role of the sun in his Neun Bucher Archidoxis (circa 1526-1527) in which he compared the earthly fire in the alchemical furnace to the sun’s heat. He stated that the alchemical tincture, or elixir, obtained its virtues from the spirit of the sun which was present within it as a reflection of the heavenly orb, its imminent “astra”.
Franckenberg is pre-occupied above all with the theme of the healing elixir which he calls the “Wasser des Lebens” (water of life), or the “Brunnen des Lebens” (stream of Life), deliberately equating these fluids with the water of Christian baptism, as well as with the communion wine and the blood of Christ. These are said to be the same as the River Jordan running through the midst of the New Jerusalem as in Revelation 22: 1-2.
Stefan Michelspacher, Cabala
Stefan Michelspacher, Cabala
There is a connection in Franckenberg’s alchemical discourse also with that of the Austrian alchemist and physician Stefan Michelspacher’s ideas in his alchemical treatise, the Cabala (Augsburg, 1616). Here there is a cryptogram in the second and third engravings consisting of the letters “VWIWV,” standing for “Unser Wasser ist Wasser Unser.” This old alchemical axiom is related to the text of John 4: 14: “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” In the 1706 Amsterdam edition of Franckenberg’s Raphael, an anonymous author has appended a text to this effect, entitled, “De aqua – V W+WV sapientum.”
Unser Wasser ist Wasser Unser: ein himlisch Wasser/ ein Wasser des Lebens: ein Schlisch Wasser/ welchem alle Geister lieben . . .
Franckenberg’s introduction to the Raphael speaks of the “gift” of medicine, which is the transformation of the “bitter water,” or “evil water,” into the spring of Israel and the Light and Spirit of the Lord and his name “IeHoVaH.” Just like Robert Fludd in the Utriusque Cosmi Historiae, he begins with the story of the creation in Genesis in which the Word, Christ or the “Ruach Elohim,” the Spirit of the Lord, moved over the waters to begin the creation. Original sin corrupted the creation and was the source of human ills and evils (an accepted universal idea). Franckenberg adopts from Boehme’s cosmology his triple division of the qualities of creation – the Spiritual/ Soul-like/ Mortal (“Geistlich Seelisch Leiblich”). Franckenberg discusses the resurrection of “Die Neue Creatur”, the “new man” who has been saved from death and freed from his sins through the blood of Christ which forgives and washes away all diseases of life, soul and spirit. Fludd writes exactly the same through-out his medical treatise the Medicina Catholica (1621-23) and the Anatomiae Amphiteatrum (1623).
Health is the result of faith, which arises from hearing the Word, the “Ruach Elohim” who was pictured as a bird by the Chaldeans. This cabbalistic name was given to the Spirit of Christ, the Creator-God, by Heinrich Khunrath in his alchemical treatise, the Amphiteatrum (1595). This Word of Faith, in Franckenberg’s system, is the holy name of “JESU JEHOV.” The waters over which the Spirit moves are the heavenly, fiery element of the quintessence, identified alchemically with alchemical oil and sulphur. Franckenberg may even be thinking of Fludd’s famous illustration of the Word of God moving out from the Word “Fiat” over the face of the deep. Franckenberg recapitulates in the Raphael that the medicine of the wise is nothing other than water, powder, or plaster derived from nature, or found by human wit. This water springs from God’s Spirit, the “Ruach Elohim” and operates through God’s Word, the name of Jesus, to heal human illness. It is also a balsam, or oil.
Comparable ideas may be found at the heart of Robert Fludd’s alchemy in the Medicina Catholica and the Anatomiae Amphitheatrum.
Here there is found a recipe for an elixir which Fludd describes as being a “catholic,” that is, a universal medicine. It is the quintessence of both Nature and of the human soul and is identifiable with the Holy Spirit of the resurrected Christ. He describes the production of this astonishing chemical in the “Tractatus de Tritico” (“Tractate on Wheat”), the first part of a longer work, the Anatomiae Amphitheatrum (1623). It is said to be the alchemical equivalent of human blood, a tincture extracted from the red-oil of wheat. This elixir is the body and blood of Christ in alchemical form. The sun plays the central role in Fludd’s procedure, transmitting the virtue of the heavens into the substance. His distilled spirit of wheat has virtues corresponding to those of the sun and gold. Fludd notes that the first substance produced in the course of distillation is a white liquid, which, placed in the open air, turns red in the rays of the sun. Due to the fiery nitre in the solar rays these chemicals become the universal panacea, whose generative celestial fire had been drawn out of the sun. Fludd may have gained this idea from Boehme’s work which was being transmitted in manuscript and Fludd probably knew German. In Boehme’s work of the same date as Fludd’s De testamentis Christi, oder Von Christi Testamenten (1623) he teaches that Christ is present in the Eucharist in the same manner as the sun is in vegetation through its warmth. The communion miracle is an alchemical transmutation produced by the spiritual forces of Nature (in which Christ’s Spirit is present) on the elemental construction of the communion materials. Boehme compares the wine to the alchemical tincture. In the same manner, Fludd states that the sun is the altar of Christ the Messiah, the “anima mundi,” in his form as the messianic angel Metattron (following Johannes Reuchlin’s cabbalistic account).
The earliest influence on these types of Christological Paracelsians may have been the work of a Hungarian alchemist, Melchior Cibinensis, in the early sixteenth century (and he was not alone in his ideas). He had written a treatise in which the rite of the Eucharist had served as a metaphor for alchemical transmutation. Cibinensis can be identified with Nicolaus Melchior Szebeni of Hermannstadt (formerly the Hungarian city of Sibiu or Cibiu). He became a chaplain and astrologer from 1490 at the royal court of King Ladislaus II of Hungary and subsequently served Louis II (1516-26). In 1526, Cibinensis joined the court of Emperor Ferdinand I in Vienna and was executed by him in 1531 for his Protestant affiliations.
He was included by the alchemist and Imperial physician Michael Maier in his compendium of famous alchemists, the Symbola Aureae Duodecim Nationum (1617) and Maier commissioned an illustration from the artist, Matthieu Merian. Maier, a Lutheran, had himself travelled to England in early 1612 where he was attached to the court of James II until 1618 and probably met Robert Fludd. Merian’s picture illustrates a Roman Catholic mass in an apocalyptic context. The scene is primarily an allegory of the alchemical process of “cibatio” (“feeding”) in which the distilled spirits are re-united with the calcinated ashes. The woman and child represent the Apocalyptic Woman of Revelation 12:1-6, 13-17. Cibinensis’s discrete original text had been discontinued at the Credo, prior to the consecration of the bread and wine in the Words of Institution, probably to avoid accusations of desecrating the mass. Cibinensis never specifically identified Christ with the philosopher’s stone, as did Khunrath in his Amphiteatrum nearly a century later and Maier’s engraving continues this identification, clearly identifying Christ with the “lapis philosophorum” and the elixir of life.
There was a proto-type for Maier’s apocalyptic Eucharist in an engraving from Khunrath’s Amphiteatrum (1595) which shows an alchemist praying in his laboratory before an altar on which stands a book displaying two geometrical diagrams. This volume represents the missal. Both of the diagrams are Pythagorean emblems of Christ incarnated both in Nature and in the communion materials of the mass.
All images with the permission of the British Library, London
To conclude: In medieval and Renaissance religious belief the divine flesh and wine of the
Communion was regarded as a mysterious healer of physical human ailments, providing
supernatural food and health, the “heavenly manna” or “panis angelicum” (“bread of the angels”).
The materials were also equated in popular culture with alchemical potions and the communion
in two kinds was given popular alchemical names such as “balsam,” “pharmakon,” “elixir vitae”
and “medicina sacramentalis.” The alchemist and dissident evangelical John of Rupescissa in the
1370s had introduced into western Europe the Arabian concept of the alchemical elixir as the
liquid form of the astral fifth essence. It was to be distilled from wine and thus had a sacramental
aura. Paracelsian alchemists adopted this idea adding additional Christological elements drawn
from Christian cabbalism and from Roman Catholic Eucharistic doctrine. Christ as the
Messiah, the universal healer of both soul and body, was the fundamental principle of
Fludd’s alchemical medicine. His system is so similar to Franckenberg’s which was
devised slightly later that a direct influence on Franckenberg from Fludd cannot be
 Cornelis von Stockum, Theodorus, Zwischen Jakob Bohme und Johann Scheffle: Abraham von Franckenberg (1593-1652) und Daniel Czepko von Reigersfeld (1605-1660) (Amsterdam, 1967)
Bruckner, J. , Abraham von Franckenberg: A bibliographical catalogue with a shortlist of his library, Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 1988.